Unless you come from a family of avid Hawaiian surfers, chances are you wouldn’t show up to the funeral of an elderly relative in a pair of floral-print shorts and flip-flops. Likewise, when you’re off to meet your mates for a summertime beer garden session, it’s highly unlikely you’d reach for the parka. Well, assuming you aren’t one of the Gallagher brothers, that is.
The point is, there are different items of clothing best suited to different occasions. However, there is one wonder garment that works across the whole spectrum of social settings. Wear it to a funeral, wear it at the pub, wear it at a wrestling match, wear it to meet the Queen. Intrigued? We’re talking, of course, about the shirt.
With all of its different variations, the shirt is without a doubt the most versatile article of dress there is. But which types of shirt should you stock your wardrobe with to ensure you have all bases stylishly covered? Well, these 10 are the essentials.
Oxford Button-Down Shirt
Sharing its name with the Oxford cloth from which it’s cut, this menswear classic has been serving as the bedrock of many a stylish outfit for well over 120 years. The fabric is quite thick compared to most others in shirting, giving it a casual edge. A button down collar and hanger loop to the back of the yoke are common design traits.
If ever there was a true menswear essential, the Oxford button-down shirt is it. This timeless piece serves as a sartorial building block that works for a range of dress codes, making it one of the most versatile pieces in any wardrobe.
“I like a button-down worn open collar with jeans, corduroys or chinos but not with a suit, as I think the casual style clashes with the formality of the tailoring,” says master shirtmaker Emma Willis. “A button-down collar shirt looks perfect in a mid blue Oxford cotton with a button cuff made famous by Brooks Brothers but now in more tailored fits.”
Whether you’re a fan of getting suited and booted or not, society dictates that you’re probably going to have to shoehorn yourself into a tuxedo at least a handful of times over the course of your existence. If you didn’t already know, black tie requires a very specific type of shirt.
A classic evening or dress shirt will typically be cut from pique (AKA Marcella) fabric, which was originally chosen for its ability to hold starch and keep the fabric crisp and stiff. There is also usually a bib, where the fabric is reinforced, a wing, pointed or cutaway collar, and double cuffs, which require cufflinks to be worn.
In terms of styling, Willis suggests keeping things low key. “I prefer simplicity for the evening,” she says. “A marcella bib front evening shirt with stud front and tiny jet or pearl studs and cufflinks, a cutaway collar – wing is only for white tie – and a black silk barathea bow tie.”
Cuban Collar Short Sleeve Shirt
What better way to appease your inner hairy-chested Colombian drug lord than by soaking up some sun in his favourite type of shirt? This breezy summer staple has always looked good, and thanks to the current fifties-fashion revival, it’s right on trend at the moment too.
The ‘Cuban’ part refers to the shirt’s open collar, which makes it ideal for putting some air on your chest. In addition to this, most Cuban collar shirts also feature a fairly boxy fit, straight hem and button-up front.
This shirt is a must-have for most guys, but there are a few considerations to be made. “Approach with caution,” warns personal stylist Daniel Johnson. “This style is not for the thicker necked bloke. Make sure to get it right on the body too, or it’ll look like a pyjama top.
“The golden rule, as ever with short sleeves is to make them fit to the arm – baggy sleeves make arms look skinnier and skinny arms make a chest look smaller – not great.”
Too warm for a coat, yet too cold for a T-shirt. That troublesome transitional period between the two meteorological extremes is notorious for throwing a spanner in the works where getting dressed is concerned. Luckily, though, we have overshirts.
The overshirt’s beauty lies in its versatility. It makes for a perfectly suitable light jacket when the weather is warmer. Or, you can layer things up on colder days and even wear a coat over the top in winter.
Styling-wise, simplicity is the key. “A dark blue overshirt with a white T-shirt works great,” adds Johnson. “But a shabby overshirt and a detailed shirt looks like a sloppy teenagers get up.” Team it up with some raw denim and a pair of lace-up work boots and you’re good to go.
Whether you’re chopping logs in rural Canadian woodland, or simply nipping out for a latte in mid-December, the humble flannel shirt is an absolute must. This thick, soft fabric is essential when the mercury drops and it’s versatile too, whether you opt for a plaid or plain version.
“A mid-weight or heavy flannel shirt is an absolute must for when the weather turns cooler,” says Alex Field, head of menswear at Reiss. “This classic piece is great for layering and can be worn open over a T-shirt or buttoned up so it mimics a light outerwear piece in the summer, or even in the winter under a parka when the cold needs to be kept at bay. Top it off with some dark denim jeans and a pair of sturdy boots and you’re all set to brave the elements in style.”
It’s a horrible term, but the advent of business casual dress codes has meant that that you can probably clock in to your workplace in a much broader range of clothing than your father ever dared to. We think that’s a good thing, but there’s still room for wardrobe workhorses like the classic work shirt, especially if your boss still expects you to wear a tie.
“There is nothing like the smooth, formal appearance of good quality two fold poplin cotton for an every day work shirt,” says Willis. “Textures such as twills, oxfords and herringbones are perfect for an more casual shirt giving interest without a tie, but for that immaculate, clean, no- nonsense business look a plain white or palest blue gleaming with quality poplin shirt and tie cannot be beaten.”
Look for a breathable poplin weave for stuffy days handcuffed to your inbox, and choose between a pointed or cutaway collar, depending on how much you want people to notice your tie. Some retailers will offer stretchy and anti-wrinkle fabrics, too. Light blues and pinks are solid team members but for its versatility, white will go home with the employee of the month award.
No, it’s not denim. Chambray uses a plain weave in its construction, which results in a lighter fabric than the twill weave used for its jean-making cousin. This makes a chambray shirt a great option if you like the look of denim but find it a bit too much.
This type of shirt looks fantastic with almost everything too, making it nothing short of a style staple and something that every bloke should have at least one of hanging in his wardrobe.
Because of this versatility, the chambray shirt couldn’t be easier to style. One of the main considerations is to ensure it doesn’t match too closely with your jeans. “Just vary the shade a bit,” says Sarah Gilfillan, founder of men’s personal styling service SartoriaLab. “Otherwise, wear it with chinos. Or you could put one with a light suit to make it look a bit more casual.”
Classic Short Sleeve Shirt
It wasn’t so long ago that the short sleeve shirt was a style crime reserved for for delivery drivers, bible salesmen and scary men in nightclubs with pupils the size of coffee cups. Fortunately, designers have reclaimed this casual summer style for its versatility and warm-weather practicality.
In recent years, it’s become a vehicle for broader summer trends, from tropical prints and geometric patterns to pastel colours and vertical stripes. Whatever your preferred mode of turning heads, a short-sleeve shirt works with most summer legwear from shorts and chinos to lighter denim and linen trousers.
Wear casually, usually without tucking it in. Make sure the sleeve ends no higher than mid-bicep and never wear it with a suit.
Don’t be too quick to write the denim shirt off as a fashion faux pas. Worn right, this classic workwear item can give your outfit an added dose of masculinity and lend a casual edge when worn with an unstructured blazer, or even a full suit if you’re feeling brave.
The fashion police seem to have an eternal arrest warrant out for double denim too, which is one thing that might put a lot of men off wearing denim up top. However, if you’re clever about it, embracing the Canadian tuxedo can offer a way to inject some texture into your wardrobe.
“Never be scared of doubling up quality denim,” advises Danny Hodgson, owner of London-based premium denim shop Rivet and Hide. “It’s when the denim is of poor quality that you can make a bad situation worse. “Styling-wise, it’s good to wear a crispy new raw denim shirt with broken in and faded raw denim jeans, or vice versa.” The key lies in the contrast.
Is there anything worse than being crammed into a train carriage on a summer commute with some bloke’s soaking wet armpit so close top your face that you can almost taste the salt? Probably not. Don’t be that guy and swap out your Oxfords for linens when the mercury begins to rise.
Linen is the breezy answer to all of your warm-weather woes. It’s light, it’s airy and it gives you the chance to experiment with some pastel shades that you may not ordinarily go for.
“Nothing says summer like a linen shirt,” says Gilfillan. “Airy and breathable, I love a linen shirt with jeans or chinos, or you can roll up the sleeves and wear casually with shorts. I feel like you can be braver with colour in a linen shirt too, though a white or pale blue is always a classic to have in your wardrobe.”
Getting The Perfect Fit
Your shirt could be spun from the hair of angels and hand-stitched in the Tuscan hills by God Himself but, sadly, if it doesn’t fit like a glove, you’re still not going to look the part.
This is why it’s so crucial to nail your sizing and stick to it religiously, no matter what type of shirt you’re wearing. With that in mind, we asked renowned men’s personal stylist Daniel Johnson for his tips on how yours should fit in all the most important places.
A gaping collar is a dead giveaway that a shirt is too big. Likewise, if your face is turning purple and you’re having difficulty swallowing, you might want to consider a size or two up.
“Pay attention to the neck of your shirt,” says Johnson. “Usually a finger-width of space when fully fastened will be just right.”
Fashion may have experimented with overlength sleeves, but if you’re walking anywhere other than a runway, you’d be well advised not to do the same. For the perfect fit, your sleeves should end where your wrist meets your hand but with enough excess fabric to prevent them from riding up every time you move your arms.
But it’s not all about length – ahem – girth is important too. “Keep them slim,” says Johnson. “You need to see some daylight between the sleeve and the body.”
So, you’re not blessed with the torso of a Greek god. Don’t worry, because a well-fitted shirt can create the illusion of a more masculine frame even if you’re built more like Ariana Grande than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“To make the shoulders appear as wide as possible there’s one trick,” says Johnson. “Where the sleeve of the shirt is joined to the body is the key. It should sit on the ‘humeral head’, in other words the widest point of the shoulder.”
Nothing ruins the look of a shirt quite like straining buttons, struggling to contain what lies beneath.
“Ensure your shirt isn’t too tight around the chest,” says Johnson. “I see it all too often that the shirt is tightly fitted around this area, restricting movement and looking unsightly when it pulls.”
Ultimately, the chest area should feel comfortable, while also granting you a full range of motion in the arms and upper body.
Length is one of the most common things guys get wrong when it comes to shirting. Yes, we’re fully aware of the whole longline thing but it will pass eventually, trust us. And if you want to come out the other end of it with your style credentials left unscathed, there are just two shirt lengths you need to keep in mind.
“Casual shirts are designed to be left untucked, says Johnson. “For this reason the fabric should reach roughly halfway down the backside. Formal shirts, on the other hand, should reach to the bottom of the backside to avoid coming untucked.”